Businesses need greater visibility into the supply chain to maintain their edge in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Given that 90 percent of global trade moves on the ocean, seaports are critical nodes of the supply chain. The challenge, however, is that major ports now must serve ever-larger container ships while also addressing the complexity of handling cargo carried by vessel-sharing alliances—constantly shifting arrangements among cargo ship operators sharing space on ships as a cost-saving strategy.


With these challenges in mind, I was interested to learn that to keep cargo moving efficiently through the largest U.S. container port, the Port of Los Angeles and GE Transportation are partnering to pilot a new port information portal, which will digitize maritime shipping data and make it available to cargo owners and supply chain operators through secure, channeled access. The digital platform will provide stakeholders with greater line-of-sight and planning capabilities to more effectively service ultra-large container vessels, according to the port authority. Cargo data used in the two-month pilot project will include filtered information from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) system.


“Over the past year, the U.S. Department of Commerce has redoubled our efforts to help strengthen the competitiveness of our ports and supply chain stakeholders through the adoption of digital solutions,” says U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. “The innovative steps being taken in Los Angeles will demonstrate the value of new IT systems to ports and shippers, and help catalyze the voluntary implementation of these systems at ports throughout the U.S.”


Gene Seroka, Executive Director, Port of Los Angeles, says port executives realize that to keep pace with the rapidly changing shipping landscape, operations at ports must evolve. Digital solutions that enable supply chain partners to receive a ship’s cargo information well in advance of arrival, like with the digital portal being tested with GE Transportation, are a critical key to optimizing U.S. cargo efficiency and trade competitiveness, he says.


Ultimately, the goal for the port information portal is to improve data-flow between cargo owners, shipping lines and other stakeholders so port and terminal operators have an extended window of time to track inbound cargo to more effectively service vessels, optimize cargo movement and improve the predictability and reliability of the supply chain. Port and cargo stakeholders manually tested this advance exchange of data when the largest-ever container ship called on a U.S. port last December, when the megaship Benjamin Franklin, with a capacity of nearly 18,000 containers, arrived at the Port of Los Angeles.


Two weeks before the ship arrived, the port received detailed information regarding container count and placement on the ship, as well as a breakdown of their destinations—to the Midwest via rail, for example, or to local retailers or inland warehouses to be unloaded. Ports typically receive that information 36 to 48 hours before the vessel arrives, Seroka said in a Wall Street Journal article last December.


Knowing all that information earlier “gave us a great line of sight as to how we should plan railcar assets, truck power and longshore labor,” Seroka said.


What are your thoughts on the plans to digitize maritime shipping data and make it available to cargo owners and supply chain operators? What impact will there be on supply chains if those organizations can plan railcar assets, truck power and longshore labor weeks in advance?